USA (Habana 53)

You can’t really consider Cuba as a country without considering the role of Uncle Sam; their intervention in the war for independence from Spain was a turning point, the consideration of Cuba become part of the Union, the influx of American investment (much of it from organised crime), their support for the Batista dictatorship until it was overthrown by Castro, the missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs, Guantanamo…

All in all the US hasn’t been a quiet and unobtrusive neighbour, though the recent rapprochement confirms that their value as a trading partner outweighs this.

Diplomatic relations were broken off in the early sixties, so for some time there was no direct representation for American interests in the country, or for Cuban interests in the U.S. although Switzerland and Czechoslovakia respectively took on some of the workload.

In 1977 Jimmy Carter’s administration took steps to improving relations with the result that US diplomats took over  from the Swiss in running what was known as the United States Interests Section in Havana.  (It was finally recognised as an embassy in August 2015)

Of course with the two nations still at odds politically and ideologically the building inevitably became a flashpoint.  With a complete lack of diplomacy the Americans began displaying propaganda messages on the building, even installing an electronic billboard in 2006 specifically for the purpose.

Havana’s response?  They’d already built the José Marti Anti-Imperialist Platform, a public space for political rallies, in front of the US Special Interests Building, so they used it to build a wall of flags, initially each with a white star on a black background to represent Cuban victims of terrorism.  The flags’ role was to obscure sight-lines to the billboard.

In 2009 the billboard was removed, and the flags now fluttering are the Cuban national flag.  How ironic that it should now be a wall of stars and stripes.

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